Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse PreviewBy Patrick Klepek - Posted Mar 16, 2010
Sam & Max are back...again. It's comforting to live in a world where Sam & Max are regular occurrences in our gaming lives again, after repeated attempts to revive the duo. Sam, Max and Telltale Games' episodic format helped make adventure games relevant again, but it seems Telltale is starting to ask themselves what it means to be a modern adventure game, as Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse (aka season 3) is looking like a genre reinvention.
The first season of Sam & Max's return to games followed the point 'n click format we've been used to. In fact, most of Telltale's releases have. It's an interface we're comfortable with. Slowly, however, Telltale has secretly modified the interface for their games, especially as their releases have moved to the console arena, where the audience doesn't necessarily have the built-in nostalgia for a point 'n click interface and analog sticks don't work nearly as well. PC and Mac players, however, will have the option to retain the traditional interface they're used to. If you plug in a USB controller to your PC or Mac, it'll switch over to the new design.
The Devil's Playhouse marks the biggest departure to date, which Telltale demonstrated to me on a PlayStation 3 last week at GDC. (This season marks the series' PlayStation Network debut and so far has not been announced for Xbox Live Arcade.) The interface has been streamlined to reflect that many console gamers aren't necessarily used to managing and manipulating an inventory screen that's heavily reliant on guessing what the designer wants you to do. Telltale wants to encourage user experimentation without generating frustration.
To that end, Sam and Max are now separate characters who can be swapped in real-time with a simple button push. Each of them has different abilities and powers (don't jump to conclusions -- this isn't suddenly an action game), but it's meant to create a stronger differentiation between the two detectives and ripen the variety. Max, for example, has been granted a series of psychic powers doled out over The Devil's Playhouse's five episodes, a power per episode. Eventually, they'll be used in concert to solve more complex puzzles.
One power allowed Max to transport near someone after acquiring their cellphone numbers. Another allowed him to listen to what people are thinking. In one particular puzzle, Harry Moleman is caught behind a piece of glass and he has an item Sam and Max need to proceed. Max tapped into Harry Moleman's brain, plucked the cell phone number he was thinking about, switched to the other power and transported himself next to Harry. This puzzle was featured in the epilogue of the game, however, with Telltale promising more complexity later.
This refined approach to playing an adventure game comes alongside some enhancements to the tech powering Telltale's games. The Devil's Playhouse is easily their best looking game yet, and it'll be exciting to see how it translates to future Telltale games.
The Devil's Playhouse is shaping up to be an interesting experiment for adventure games, and I'm curious to not only discover how it plays for myself...but how adventure fans react.